Josh Gates is the host of SyFy’s hit show “Destination Truth”. The show is set to premiere Tuesday, July 10, at 8:00 pm with two back-to-back episodes to commence its fifth season. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Josh about “Destination Truth” and what we can expect from season 5.
Mike Gencarelli: Can you tell, for those of us who don’t know, how you first got involved in the show?
Josh Gates: Sure. I’m like a travel adventure guy I think by birth. I just always loved the idea of travel. I think there’s something in my blood that I’m not a real sit still kind of guy. My mom is from England, my father spent a lot of his career working overseas. And so from a young age I was kind of exposed to travel. And it took me, after college, a little while to figure out how to do that professionally. I was living in Los Angeles, and I would save some money up and I would take a trip, and I would save some money up and I would take a trip. And very coincidentally, as you know, a lot of these things are when it comes to the television world, I knew this producer who was pitching the show to Syfy about a kind of exploration into the unknown kind of format, this Destination Truth show, and they needed a host. I was just returning from Africa and I had just climbed Kilimanjaro. And they met a bunch of people and I walked in and looked really terrible and scruffy and dirty from this trip. And I think that there was this kind of authenticity where they say, “Hey, this is a guy who really loves to travel.” And beyond that, I think they really wanted someone who wasn’t going to just rubber stamp these stories, someone who wasn’t just going to say, “Ghosts are real, Bigfoot’s real.” And so I think the other thing that was a nice marriage between Syfy and I is that I could kind of be a proxy for the viewer and kind of act as a skeptic and approach these stories, you know, with a degree of skepticism. So it was just a good fit. And the rest has been history. And it’s been four or five years of doing a lot of travel and looking into a lot of these really, really amazing stories.
MG: Can you talk about your favorite place you’ve been this season?
JG: This season is great. We went to a bunch of locations we haven’t been to before. So it’s our very first time touching down in places like Sweden, our very first time going tothe Islands of Fiji. So a lot of new locations for me. And I always like that, I’m kind of a shameless competitor, so I always want to go to a new place and check off a new box for a place I’ve never been to before. But for me I think in terms of real highlight locations for me, we went to Guatemala for the first time this year, and one of the things that we try to do on the show is we always want to push ourselves to continue to explore these really iconic historic sites. We’ve been to King Tut’s tomb, we’ve been to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and we had the opportunity to investigate the Mayan ruins of Tikal. It’s the year of the Maya, it’s a big story this year with the Mayan calendar turning over. And so to be able to go down, deep into the jungles of Guatemala and kind of have free run of the ruins of Tikal, this is one of the biggest most significant Mayan cities. It’s one of the largest ruins in the Americas. It’s – you know, there are thousands and thousands of structures there, and these soaring pyramids that, you know, come up through the jungle canopy. It’s just this incredible place. It was a sort of terrifying location and also just this breathtaking beautiful place. And so I’m really excited to showcase our trip to the ruins of Tikal for our viewers. I think it’s really one of our highlight destinations. I also loved our trip to Vietnam. I’m a huge fan of Southeast Asia. I just love that part of the world. And one of the things I really love is when we’re able to spend a whole hour in one place on the show. So for our season premiere, we spend the whole hour doing this really, you know, back country trek into Vietnam. And it’s a great way to showcase a little bit of the cities of Vietnam, and a lot of the places in country that you don’t see, this really deep wilderness. And so I’m really excited about that as well.
MG: This season tell us about your first follow-up investigation and how you got cameraman Evan to return?
JG: Yes, so this season we’re doing our first ever follow-up investigation. We get all sorts of emails and letters and requests from fans to return to a few different locations that we’ve visited on the show before.
People always want us to go back to the Island of the Dolls in Mexico or to Chernobyl — which I’m not going to go back to — or to this haunted forest in Romania. I think the reason that people really were so interested in that story the first time is that my cameraman Evan had this really terrifying experience there. This is a guy who, he’s a real road warrior. He’s worked on all sorts of different types of shows, he’s not a paranormal guy, he doesn’t believe in ghosts, he’s a skeptic. And we went into this forest that’sreputed to be home to this, you know, dark, paranormal energy. And he was basically blown off his feet by something a couple of years ago on the show. And so we got all these requests to go back and to revisit this location. So we wanted to go back but we knew that we really couldn’t go back if we didn’t have Evan with us. And you know, the thing about Evan is he’s kind of a glutton for punishment. And you know, working on Destination Truth it’s like a hard tour of duty, but all of everyone who works on the show wants to come back and do it again. Evan has a family and he has other projects he’s been working on. And so for the past couple of years he hasn’t been on the show. And he always is like, “Man I’ve got to get back out there, I want to come back out and work with you guys again.” And so I called him and I said, “Evan, I have this great opportunity, we’ll fly you out to do one episode of the show. We miss you, we want to see you.” And he’s like, “Oh great, that sounds terrific.” And then I told him where it was and he wasn’t quite as excited. But he agreed to do it, he came back. He was a great sport. And I of course made him go back to the very same place that he was the last time. And you know, you saw the episode, it’s a pretty thrilling night. Another set of really mysterious things happened to him.
MG: Are five seasons, are you still surprised by the different things you find out?
JG: I am. I’m constantly surprised on the show, you know? I’m surprised by a lot of different things. I think that’s really one of the things that makes the show work. I think if the show were only about, “Are you going to catch a monster at the end of the hour,” it wouldn’t work. I think that there are so many surprises that we have every time we go out there. I’m surprised by the people that we meet, I’m surprised that we’ve met so many reasonable, intelligent people who really have been shaken up by experiences and encounters with the unknown. Whether you’re a skeptic or not you meet these people who really have had some sort of legitimate experience. So I’m always amazed by that. And then my curiosity is always peaked because I want to understand what it is that they have experienced. Beyond that, I’m just also continuously amazed by just the sort of general hospitality of people and by the really interesting different cultures that we get to embed ourselves into. So I think that one of the great things about the show is it’s always full of surprises, you know? And sometimes it’s scary, sometimes it’s funny, but it’s a real adventure and you never quite know where it’s going to take you. And that’swhat keeps it interesting.
MG: Can you walk us through the process of how you decide on the stories? Like who pitches it, and do you have a bunch of people doing research, that type of thing?
JG: We take a map of the world and we get a bucket of darts and then we throw – no that’s not how we do it. We, first and foremost we want to go to places that people are experiencing something, currently experiencing something, that they can’t explain. So we don’t want to go somewhere where there’s a legend of a creature that nobody’s seen for 300 years. So we start by looking through newspapers, looking on the Internet, and working with our contacts that we’ve built up around the world to identify stories in the news that are appropriate for the show. So that’s really the first step. And that yields us a lot of our material. It’s just finding places where these stories are reported. The cool thing about these kind of stories is even if they’re really out there, they always get reported. I mean you even open up like your local newspaper here, and you may see on the bottom of page, you know, D7 or whatever that a lake monster was seen by a group of people. These are the stories that always catch our attention. And we always sort of wonder, “Wow, I wonder what’s really going on there?” So those are the stories that around the world. We also I think keep a mind to, as I was talking about earlier, trying to find some locations that are really going to challenge us and push us. So we want to go to ruins and historic sites and heritage sites, places where we want to take the viewer with us. I feel like part of the show is about investigating the unknown for me, and part of the show is about being a virtual travel agency. And I really want to take our viewers to places that are going to really blow their minds. And so bringing them to places like Tikal and bring them to these heritage sites is a really important thing to us. So this season we’re going to be traveling to, “Kazakhstan and Fiji, and Romania, Belize, the Philippines, really different types of destinations.” And that’s the other thing we try to do is put a good collection of places together that gives the viewers different types of experiences. So one week we might be high up in the Himalayas, the next week we might be on a tropical island somewhere. So we kind of jam all that into the hopper and see if we can make sense of it and create a route for ourselves that makes sense, and to find a group of stories that are different and interesting and adventurous.
MG: There’s quite a lot of reality series, probably a lot more now than when Destination Truth first launched, and a lot of competition out there. How do you distinguish yourself from the others out there?
JG: Well look you’re right, there are a lot of different reality shows out there about some of the things that we do, but also there’s just a lot of programming out there in general about everything. So I think you can’t get too caught up in trying to think your way through differentiating yourself from everybody because everybody is naturally different. There’s just so much programming out there that I think you’d drive yourself crazy. One of the things I likeabout Destination Truth a whole lot, is that I don’t see that exact format anywhere else. And it’s a format that has to do with having fun, there’s a lot of comedy in Destination Truth, there’s a lot of hijinks and misadventure. And it’s, as I said earlier, “It’s a very inviting series. We really want the viewer to feel like they’re out there with us.” There’s a lot of paranormal and now this more sort of crypto programming out there that is very earnest and very serious and very kind of moody. I think what we do is find this great combination on Destination Truth of doing a real serious investigation, but showing all the fun that we have getting to these destinations and getting ourselves in these really out of the way places. And I don’t see that anywhere else. And I think that that’s what makes the show unique. I think that it’s the fact that our crew is really front and center, they’re part of the team. My camera operators, audio technicians, medic; they’re part of the crew. And what you’re seeing is a show where we flip that camera around every minute and show you, not just what’s in front of the camera, not just a host driven vehicle, but a team of people who are out there having a real roughshod adventure. And that’s unique. So for my money, that’s what makes Destination Truth stand on its own.
MG: What would you say if someone has never watched the show, what would they need to know in order to pick up and start watching this season?
JG: I think the great thing about “Destination Truth” is that you can kind of turn it on and you’re at the start of a new adventure every week, You don’t need to have been a fan of the show for years to understand it. Every week we are going to pick up on the trail of some mystery around the world and we’re going to invite the viewer to come with us to get on a plane, to fly around the world and to investigate that mystery. The great thing about the show is that we make that a real open invitation. We want the viewer to feel like they’re right there with us. So the way that we film Destination Truth is we just kind of include it all. If there’s flat tires or bad food or rough lodging or kind of zany people that we meet, we throw them up all on screen so that the viewer doesn’t feel like they’re watching a kind of sanitized, produced effort. We want them to feel like they’re out there with us and show them what it’s really like to have this adventure. So it’s a really inclusive show that way and it’s a lot of fun. I think that’s the other thing about the show that’s unique is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The adventure that we go on is often peppered with these really kind of funny experiences and misadventures along the way. And so we always think it’s just a great ride.